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Under The Radar – 18 June

Christian Lue on Unsplash

This week, we discuss:

  1. Allegations that the DOJ ‘snooped’ on Democrats and journalists

  2. The rise of OnlyFans

  3. The G7’s plan to counter Chinese influence in the developing world

Shadow of Russia investigation still looms over Capitol Hill

What happened?

John Demers, the head of the US Justice Department’s (DOJ) national security division, is resigning after it emerged the DOJ subpoenaed Apple for the data of House Intelligence Committee members, their staff, and their families during the Russia investigation. Journalists at the New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post were also targeted as part of the DOJ’s investigation into the repeated leaks to the media.

What does it mean?

While Demers is not thought to have been personally involved, it’s hard to believe that he was not briefed on the extraordinary move, given that he was appointed as division head just days after the subpoenas were issued. Demers’ scalp is the first to result from the almighty backlash on Capitol Hill and in America’s newsrooms, who have rightly pointed out that media leaks of this nature were certainly not illegal, and posed no actual threat to national security.

The subpoenaing the phone records of members of Congress is almost unheard of in the U.S, with investigations of elected officials always likely to be perceived as being politically motivated. Indeed, the purpose of the Constitution’s ‘Speech or Debate’ clause is to protect members of Congress from having to worry that anything they say in the course of legislative activities will implicate them legally.

It’s not hard to imagine that President Trump and his administration would have been furious about the repeated leaks, before strong-arming the DOJ into locating their source. Such an inference – of political influence in this scandal – raises fresh concerns about the DOJ’s integrity, especially during one of the most tumultuous periods in America’s history.

Was the DOJ more concerned with silencing President Trump’s sworn enemies than it was with upholding the rule of law? The jury is still out.

Can OnlyFans keep its fans?

What happened?

The content subscription service, OnlyFans, is exploring a share sale to new investors.

The social media platform allows content creators to sell video clips directly to subscribers who pay between $5 and $50 a month with OnlyFans taking a 20 percent cut of each transaction. While ostensibly aimed at all types of creators who want to make money off their own content, by far the majority of the material on the site is pornography.

What does it mean?

In its coverage of this news, Financial Times framed the site as a lockdown success story. It reported that, with more than 120m users and $400m in net sales this year, OnlyFans would have a multibillion pound valuation if it went public, making it one of the UK’s leading tech companies.

This type of assessment ignores the fact that the company has to face the ethical and reputational quandaries that come with allowing explicit content on its site.

All social media platforms need to make a bargain between duty of care and profit, but for OnlyFans the stakes are especially high.

OnlyFans’ appeal is that it gives creators ownership over their own work, allowing them to set their own prices and establish their own boundaries. But, as more sex workers join the site, creators will be incentivised to upload increasingly more graphic content for less money in order to stay competitive. Although the site requires all users to be over 18, a recent BBC investigation uncovered a trove of teenage creators – some as young as 13 – who cheated the age-verification processes to upload explicit videos.

OnlyFans promises a more authentic, intimate relationship between creator and subscriber. Let’s see if it can ensure these relationships don’t turn ugly.

Shifting attitudes towards China: a new era on the horizon?

What happened?

Among other news to come out of the G7 summit was the announcement that a task force will be established to explore a Western alternative to the Chinese ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. This reflects an ongoing shift in attitudes towards China and signals a more hardline, unified stance from the Western powers towards countering Sino influence in the developing world.

What does it mean?

The Chinese government has appeared impervious to international criticism, especially in relation to its human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. It has become clear that trying to influence Chinese domestic affairs is a fruitless endeavour and yields no results. The new task force announcement suggests that the Western powers are changing their approach and refocusing their efforts on influencing Chinese interests and supremacy abroad – more specifically, in the developing world. The major challenge already facing the task force is to successfully deliver on a project that embodies the twin objectives of Western powers: carbon neutrality and shared values and systems of governance. For it to succeed, there also has to be a cohesion of values and actions among those involved. This is likely to prove a considerable challenge when dealing with the developing world, where corruption and political instability are rife. Consequently, convincing developing countries to embrace any new proposals for a Western-led revolution in global standards to tackle corruption is by no means guaranteed.

Above all, it remains unclear as to whether such a coordinated move will have any tangible impact on the way in which China positions itself on the global stage and handles domestic dissent. History suggests not.

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. ‘Biden’s Summit Gave Putin the World Stage He Craves’ by Brian Bennett for TIME

  2. ‘Has BrewDog’s toxic culture pierced the craft-beer balloon? begun’ by Melissa Cole for The Telegraph

  3. ‘Social media platforms must abandon algorithmic secrecy’ by Frederick Mostert and Alex Urbelis for the Financial Times

  4. ‘”Worst of times”: Hong Kong media defiant amid police crackdown’ by Helen Davidson for The Guardian


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